Thursday, September 8, 2011

Diablo III has no talent tree

Gaming journalism these days is easy. The large majority of games coming out is either a sequel or belongs to a well-defined type and genre of game. Thus you only need to take the feature list of the new game and tick the boxes in comparison with the feature lists of similar games. Using that approach you will find that Diablo III has no talent trees. I'm sure you already have read that statement somewhere if you looked at previews of the game.

But as I promised a more responsible game journalism, I'd like to look at this issue less superficially. What exactly ARE talent trees, what is their function, and does Diablo III provide the same functionality in a different way?

Talent trees in a RPG provide an element of choice between combats. At any given level you can chose X out of Y possible talents, with each talent giving you a different skill, or ability, or stat boost. The advantage of the system is that two players of the same character class and level can be different by having chosen different talents. The disadvantages of talent trees are that to fill up the tree there are frequently talents which don't get anybody excited, providing a simple stat boost like "+2% armor", and that by sorting talents in trees players are often forced to take talents they don't want as prerequisites for the talents they do want.

Diablo III doesn't have talent trees, but it has a skill system which provides the same advantage of choice without having the disadvantage of boring talents and prerequisites. At any given level you still have X choices out of Y possible skills. For example my current character, a level 9 barbarian, has 3 active skills out of 10 possible skills. I get a new possible skill every level, but the next active skill only at level 12, and a passive skill at level 10. So right now I have the bash skill that causes damage and creates "fury" (like WoW warrior rage) bound to my left mouse button. I have an area-of-effect thunder strike which consumes fury bound to my right mouse button. And I have a skill that allows me to leap into (or out of) combat quickly bound to the first hotkey. But that is my choice, I could as well have chosen a cleave attack to create fury, a shout to consume the fury, and some damage reduction skill for the hotkey bar. Or one of many other possible different combinations. And because these choices aren't in a tree, I never have to choose one skill only to get another I really want. I can combine skills freely, and whenever I want between fights.

So personally I am not missing talent trees at all. Talent trees are just one possible solution to provide a certain functionality, and Diablo III provides the same functionality in a different way. You could even say that Diablo III has extremely flat talent trees with unlimited instant respecs if you absolutely want to fit the game into that drawer. Think Guild Wars, not World of Warcraft. And while such a system works will a smaller number of possibilities, that can ultimately be more fun, because you skip the boring stat bonuses and prerequisite talents. I'd even say that for an action RPG the Diablo III system is superior to a talent tree system.

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